Skip to comments.Advent: of what?
Posted on 12/07/2007 1:35:34 PM PST by mojito
According to American media reports (and what could be more reliable?) the hottest gift items for pre-school children in this year's Christmas buying season are: cellphones, laptops, digital cameras, and MP3 players. A New York Times item directs us to the hottest toys list at Amazon.com, and such products as the Easy Link Internet Launch Pad from Fisher-Price; and an exercise bike for toddlers, connected to a video game. The theme of, get the kid staring at a screen, runs right through the chart, and since the screens are interactive, let me take this opportunity to warn medical professionals to prepare for a pandemic of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome among early adolescents in another ten years.
The comment is often made, by people of my own religious and political outlook, that you cannot write satire any more, for the world of our contemporaries is self-satirizing on an heroic scale. I have myself made passing references, over the years, to what I call the mall culture: the vision of frenetic consumerism one encounters, even while trying to avoid it.
And I am getting old. The Canada in which I was brought up, so far as I was brought up in Canada, still consisted largely of small towns -- either independently placed at the centre of some rural district, or conurbated into cities. Even in the latter, the atmosphere of the town survived, physically expressed by a Main Street or equivalent: our Agora, the centre of civic life. It is this, specifically, that has been physically replaced by the mall with its acres of parking lot, and the strip mall, or whatever we are to call the commercial activity that smears along the road to the mall and beyond -- through which one must pass in entering or exiting any significant human settlement.
There are many differences between a Main Street and a mall. As a Christian, the one that strikes me most poignantly is the absence of any church in the latter. It is an environment in which a church would be out of place; and were there even a chapel, it would be in some discreet glassy enclosure like the chapels in our airports. That is, designed for people on the move, to visit in response to some transient panic.
Whereas, on Canada's old Main Streets, there were churches built of brick and stone. Protestant Canada had churches of many denominations, rather than many parish churches as in Catholic realms, but the outward effect was the same. In driving, riding, even walking towards a town, the first thing you saw was steeples. And what you heard, of a Sunday morning, was the most beautiful symphony of bells.
Indulge me for a moment, all you younger people. Consider this contrast for a moment, and what it tells you about the progress of our national life. Consider alone, the effect of warmth upon the human spirit; and compare the interior of an old-fashioned church to that of the latest mall. And now walk along our sad urban streets of a Sunday, and feel in your bones the cold of winter.
Which is not to say that the person determined to find a church will not find one today: they are still there, embedded in the gums of our older neighbourhoods, like an old man's remaining teeth, many of them not yet turned into discount furniture outlets. They have made their own accommodations with the cold world. Parishioners now drive in from across town; almost every church I know has a parking problem. Few have the luxury of walking to church any more: in their Sunday finest.
I think much of the power that animates the post-modern environmental movement is dangerously spilt religion. We look at our world, and can see that it is ugly. Some see that it does little beyond burning fuel. But grant at least the happy fact, that we have never before in history had so much food with which to gorge ourselves, or better access to leisure activities (see Christmas toy list, above).
Yet out of our prosperity snakes a kind of nihilism. Out of the negation of the old Christian Canada, comes the desire to negate this negation -- to create some fanatic environmentalist regime that will stop the consumerism, and leave us with nothing at all.
What is the alternative? What shall we gather through this Advent season, to present to our children on Christmas Day? I think Christ is the only answer.
Gee, maybe kids would really appreciate something simpler, like a bag of dirt. I'm not joking! OK, it sounds like an old Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Ackroyd, but do kids even play in the dirt anymore? They're inside all day...